Marketers have a lot to learn from interviewing their customers. Asking the right questions gives you a greater understanding of your audience ...

The art of interviewing

Marketers have a lot to learn from interviewing their customers. Asking the right questions gives you a greater understanding of your audience while broadening your perspective. But what do you need to consider to conduct an effective interview?

Unfortunately, the qualitative method has given way to more traditional approaches, such as gathering quantitative data through surveys. There are many reasons for this, one of them is that interviews are time-consuming and may take up a lot of resources.

But not all questions can be answered with quantitative data. To understand the complex world we live in, we must learn the art of interviewing. To ask open-ended questions and to really get inside the head of our audience.

Indeed, qualitative data collects a different kind of knowledge. Customers can express their own concerns, problems and challenges. By looking at this feedback, you learn to speak the language of your customer.

Interviewing is thus a way to dig deep and get a better understanding of the audience. Here are four important aspects of interviewing that you’ll want to cover.

Preparing the interview

When you interview, you step into an observer’s role, far away from the spotlight. You must become aware of your biases and leave them by the front door. This is your chance to gain new perspectives and collect valuable knowledge that won’t show up in Google Data Studio.

What is that you want to know? Research the topic and choose the right interviewee – that is, a person who can actually answer your questions. Think about why that person would participate in the interview, and what she might have to gain or lose by doing it. Explain in detail how the interview will be used and where it will appear.

It’s essential that you earn the interviewee’s trust. Show them respect and be genuinely interested in what they have to say. Find ways to create a pleasant atmosphere that welcomes deep conversations. If you can, share something personal.

Above all, prepare open-ended questions.

Ask open-ended questions

Don’t put words into your interviewee’s mouth.

Open-ended questions start with what, how, when, where and can also include words like tell and describe. Closed questions lead to a yes or a no, so try to avoid them as much as possible. They may contain charged words or phrases. Look at the following examples:

Open-ended question: How does it feel to buy your first home?
(It feels good/bad/great..)

Closed question: Do you feel stressed about buying your first home? (Yes/No…)

Notice the difference, and remember to ask more open-ended questions because they lead to better and more interesting answers.

Listen, listen, listen

Great interviewers are also great listeners. They dare to stay silent while the interviewee is thinking about what to say. We could all benefit from becoming more active listeners.

You could show that you’re listening by asking follow-up questions:

  • In what way?
  • What do you mean?
  • Can you give any examples?

Summing up what they have said in your own words is also a useful way to show your interviewee that you’re truly listening to them. Such active and reflective listening skills take practice, but they improve as you get more experience.

Finally, be prepared that the interview doesn’t always pan out the way you think it would. This is OK. Listen carefully to the answers and follow up on them. Give the interviewee the space they need to tell their story. Don’t judge.

Look out a clean window

The best questions are like clean windows, according to Canadian journalist John Sawatsky. He explains:

“A clean window gives a perfect view. When we ask a question, we want to get a window into the source. When you put values in your questions, it’s like putting dirt on the window. It obscures the view of the lake beyond. People shouldn’t notice the question in an interview, just like they shouldn’t notice the window. They should be looking at the lake.”

Follow Sawatsky’s advice and look out that clean window. Be prepared, ask open-ended questions and remember to listen. Who knows what you’ll learn.

Spoon Academy reading tip! 
Want to learn more about conducting interviews? Read our article with Divya Ostwal: What is Thick Data?